Let Ashanti (and her new subway musical Stuck) soothe your MTA nightmares
Taking a ride on the New York City subway is the stuff of unimaginable nightmares. For millions of city dwellers, the fantasy begins by boarding a trash-smelling car in anticipation of a shoulder-to-shoulder commute with total strangers. If you’re lucky, the worst you’ll deal with is an interestingly odored individual clipping their toenails four inches from your face; On the other hand, if you hold a special place in Satan’s heart, you’ll unwittingly step into an unidentifiable pool of human excrement before your 12-hour workday. It’s a scenario ripped from the bowels of hell that’s become a part of our daily routine. But, what if you could get trapped on the subway honing your vocal chops with Grammy-winning pop icon Ashanti? Would you suddenly want to spend several blissful hours gallivanting about the subterranean abyss?
Stuck — a musical-drama movie the “Happy” and “Foolish” hitmaker stars in and executive-produced — makes that fantasy a reality, and EW’s exclusive trailer for the film (above) features the multi-Platinum R&B artist as one of six unlucky strangers (Amy Madigan, Giancarlo Esposito, among others) thrust together when their Manhattan-bound 1 train unexpectedly grinds to a halt deep beneath the skyscrapers of the Big Apple. Their solution? Sing about their problems (Unwanted pregnancy! Misplaced grief! Casual racism!) until salvation arrives.
“We’re putting a positive spin on things and looking at the glass half full versus half empty, and we tried to paint a positive picture of all those scary moments,” Ashanti — who’s also working on a new album, due for release later this year — tells EW of the project. “It shows that we’ve all gone through situations where we may not be thinking the best while going through situations with other people, dealing with racism, feeling different, or feeling frustrated in the moment.”
So, the next time you find yourself rolling your eyes at the woman eating a pungent Chicken Korma sandwich at 7:00 in the morning or the manspreading lunatic barring you from a seat, think of what’s possible! Think of the song-and-dance opportunities that’ll enhance the trip for everyone! Take a breath, think of Ashanti, and sing your heart out!
Stuck rides into theaters on April 19. Watch EW’s exclusive trailer above, and read on for our full conversation with Ashanti.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: From a conceptual perspective I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a musical about six passengers stuck on a subway. What was your reaction when you first read the script?
ASHANTI: I was like, wait, what? It’s something very different, which is what drew me to it. It’s a little bit scary at first but trying something different and outside the box is what it’s all about. I did The Wiz before, but the combination of smooshing [music and acting] together is still very new. At first when I was doing lines on set, I was like, I’m used to this; When you inject the musical aspect, it felt like I was shooting a video! I was a little nervous at first, but it was a cool experience.
Most people think of using the New York subway as a total nightmare, but this film has a relatively hopeful ending. Miss Ashanti, are you selling us subway propaganda?
[Laughs] No! We’re putting a positive spin on things and looking at the glass half full versus half empty, and we tried to paint a positive picture of all those scary moments…. It shows that we’ve all gone through situations where we may not be thinking the best while going through situations with other people, dealing with racism, feeling different, and feeling frustrated in the moment. This is a bold conversational piece; It’s only human that when you have six different people from six different ethnicities and walks of life, that stuff is going to come out — especially in New York City when it’s late and it’s not your fault and you want to blame someone else. You’re going to crack a joke about someone or where they’re from because you’re mad. Even though we shot this film a few years ago and the message was relevant then, I feel like it’s way more relevant now.
I wish I had that perspective on my morning commute, because I was trapped underground for 30 mins with a passionate rage building inside me this morning.
You should’ve gotten up and started singing and it would’ve had a different ending.
Do you think our differences could be solved if we all just got stuck on a subway with each other and were forced to talk our issues out?
Fifty percent of me feels like there’s a possibility that if we all got stuck it would create a platform for us to express ourselves and our frustrations; The other 50 percent of me feels like what probably would happen in New York City is someone would get shot, because unfortunately real life is that there are some crazy people out there; Not everyone has time to sit and talk with a therapist, so they’ll take it out on the next person. I hope this film creates a dialogue and [inspires] people to think about something the next time they have a [dangerous] thought.
You grew up close to New York City, right? Do you have any subway nightmare memories?
Yes! I’m a Long Island girl…. I remember one time my mom and I were on the subway because my mom used to work in Manhattan. I was around 11, and I had a cool gold chain on. You know those gates where you walk through them and they spin around? They’re tall and almost pointy? This guy pushed me through the gate and snatched my gold chain off my neck. My first reaction, even back then: I threw a glass Snapple bottle at him! We stopped a policeman, and I ended up going to do a lineup to pick one of the guys out…. That’s different from the message of this film, but these are things that happen in life. Sometimes you can’t control it. But showing different perspectives and saying maybe I should give this a second thought and handle it differently, that’s what I hope we created.
With that perspective, how do you think you’d fare in an actual MTA nightmare like this? If your train actually got stuck underground, what would be your first instinct?
I’d be pissed. I’d try to get off of there! I’d call the MTA and be like, “Listen, we have to do something immediately!” I don’t know if I’d fake labor pains to try to get out of there as soon as possible.
I mean, ok, but if I’m on that train and see that I’m stuck on the subway next to Ashanti, we’re singing “Happy” and “Only U” until that damn train moves.
[Laughs]. Could you imagine if we really did get stuck? I’d be looking at you like, Is this guy crazy? He wants me to sing this?
It might make it go faster. Did you guys film on a real subway during working hours?
We did! Toward the end, there was a day of real subway shooting where we’d do the most important cuts instead of renting and blocking on a real subway for the duration of the film.
Were you singing live on the set as they filmed your solo song?
Yeah, I was. You lip-sync some of that, but some of the takes I definitely sang.
Did you help write or produce the solo song?
I definitely helped to write. They came with the idea, but I had to make it a little Ashanti-ish and put a little swag on it.
Which of your own songs would lend itself well to being turned into a full musical?
That’s a very hard question. You know I’ve put out a lot of albums, right? [Laughs]. I have a lot of records. I guess off the top of my head, I’m thinking “The Way That I Love You” was very theatrical and the video was a twist and something I hadn’t done before. On Braveheart there’s a song called “Never Should Have” that was very visual. I’d want to see that as a musical. One of those very dramatic records I think would work.
You’ve released some new music recently. I love “Say Less” with Ty Dolla $ign. Is a new album coming soon?
Absolutely! I’m working with some amazing producers, really cool ideas, and collabs! I’m excited about the next few moves, the year ahead, and releasing new music. It’s going to be a lot of fun.
Who are you collaborating with?
I’m working with Metro Boomin! He and I are executive-producing the project together. I’m working with Tory Lanez, Jeremih, and Swae Lee. I’m doing some stuff with Wiz Kid, and there are some talks of doing stuff with Davido, J-Roc, L. T. I’ve been talking to…. J Balvin, J. White [about] some really cool ideas.
Will we get a single anytime soon?
I’m hoping so. With me, it’s timing. There are a lot of things going on and it’s important to line everything up as much as you can, but it’s also important to not sit and wait on things. Sometimes I have a bad habit of waiting for things to line up perfectly because sometimes that doesn’t happen and then you miss out. I’d love to have some new stuff out this summer!
Do you have an album title or concept you’re working with?
I do, but I can’t tell you yet [Laughs]. And it has a concept and it’s really cool. It really tells a story. You really have to get it. I don’t even want to put a little bit out there because people are going to be like, what? I’d rather give you the whole, full-course meal instead of just the appetizer, because if you don’t taste it right, it might not go down right!